Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rain will take greater toll on reindeer, climate change model shows

19.12.2002


Jolly Old St. Nick depends on his team of reindeer to complete his Christmas rounds on time. But new research indicates that, because of the world’s changing climate, Santa might want to start thinking of new ways to power his sleigh.


Reindeer graze on the island of Spitsbergen, one area being affected by more rain-on-snow events that can cut the animals off from their food supply. (Photo credit: Jaakko Putkonen)



Scientists have long known that rain falling on snow in the far northern latitudes during winter months can play havoc with herds of hoofed animals – primarily reindeer, caribou and musk ox – that feed on lichens and mosses growing on the soil surface. In one recent instance on the far-north island of Spitsbergen, soil temperatures that normally stay well below freezing in winter months rose to near freezing and remained there for 10 days or so because rainwater seeped through the snow and water pooled at the soil surface. Finally the water froze, so soil temperatures dropped again, but the ice coating kept the animals from their food supply.

"You have an ice layer at the surface several centimeters thick that even a person couldn’t get through without tools," said Jaakko Putkonen, a research assistant professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington.


Such an ice layer lasts until summer, when the snow and ice eventually melt. And it is not uncommon for several rain-on-snow events to happen in the same winter.

"I have seen soil temperatures remain at the freezing point for as long as two months because of the slowly freezing water below the thick snowpack," Putkonen said. "Even when ice layers are not impenetrable, the warmer soil surface temperatures promote the growth of fungi and toxic molds among the lichens, so the animals avoid those areas."

In addition, the top of the snow can be covered with a layer of ice that the animals can’t penetrate, and that can damage their hooves.

"During those periods the herders have to start bringing out hay because the reindeer just can’t get food," he said.

It appears that climate change will make things substantially worse.

Putkonen developed a model of snow and soil heat generation to gauge the effects of climate change in areas such as northern Alaska and Canada, Greenland, northern Scandinavia and Russia, and Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island midway between Norway and the North Pole.

The current scientific understanding of where and when rain-on-snow events happen is based on observations over a number of years. A computer model filled in missing data between areas where observations were made. To analyze the effects of human-caused climate change, Putkonen and his UW colleague Gerard Roe studied the results of the global climate model for the decade of 1980 through 1989 and found that it correlated quite closely with actual observations during that period.

"If anything, the model understated the results," Putkonen said.

Looking ahead to the decade of 2080-89, the model shows a 40 percent increase in the land area affected by rain-on-snow events. Typically those events happen closer to coastal areas, but the model predicts they will move much farther inland. That will mean major impacts not only on reindeer herds but also on the people who depend on them for their livelihood.

"The bottom line is that the rain will penetrate farther into the interiors of the continents, where most of the reindeer are," he said. "This is a consequence of climate change that specifically affects native peoples. They have depended on reindeer and caribou for thousands of years, but they don’t have the means or the ability to deal with these effects."

The research by Putkonen and Roe, a postdoctoral researcher in the UW Quaternary Research Center, will be published in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

Putkonen hopes this work will lead to more in-depth study of how reindeer and other large ungulates, or hoofed animals, living in northern climes will be affected by global climate change. For instance, it is unclear how much the loss of food because of rain-on-snow events affects the animals’ mortality, and there is little understanding of how much greater the affect will be as those events occur farther inland, where those animals live.


For more information, contact Putkonen at (206) 543-0689 or putkonen@u.washington.edu, or Roe at (206) 543-0570 or gerard@atmos.washington.edu

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu/

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Project provides information on energy recovery from agricultural residues in Germany and China
13.02.2020 | Deutsches Biomasseforschungszentrum

nachricht New exhaust gas measurement registers ultrafine pollutant particles for the first time
21.01.2020 | Technische Universität Graz

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A step towards controlling spin-dependent petahertz electronics by material defects

The operational speed of semiconductors in various electronic and optoelectronic devices is limited to several gigahertz (a billion oscillations per second). This constrains the upper limit of the operational speed of computing. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg, Germany, and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay have explained how these processes can be sped up through the use of light waves and defected solid materials.

Light waves perform several hundred trillion oscillations per second. Hence, it is natural to envision employing light oscillations to drive the electronic...

Im Focus: Freiburg researcher investigate the origins of surface texture

Most natural and artificial surfaces are rough: metals and even glasses that appear smooth to the naked eye can look like jagged mountain ranges under the microscope. There is currently no uniform theory about the origin of this roughness despite it being observed on all scales, from the atomic to the tectonic. Scientists suspect that the rough surface is formed by irreversible plastic deformation that occurs in many processes of mechanical machining of components such as milling.

Prof. Dr. Lars Pastewka from the Simulation group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg and his team have simulated such...

Im Focus: Skyrmions like it hot: Spin structures are controllable even at high temperatures

Investigation of the temperature dependence of the skyrmion Hall effect reveals further insights into possible new data storage devices

The joint research project of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that had previously demonstrated...

Im Focus: Making the internet more energy efficient through systemic optimization

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently completed a 5-year research project looking at how to make fibre optic communications systems more energy efficient. Among their proposals are smart, error-correcting data chip circuits, which they refined to be 10 times less energy consumptive. The project has yielded several scientific articles, in publications including Nature Communications.

Streaming films and music, scrolling through social media, and using cloud-based storage services are everyday activities now.

Im Focus: New synthesis methods enhance 3D chemical space for drug discovery

After helping develop a new approach for organic synthesis -- carbon-hydrogen functionalization -- scientists at Emory University are now showing how this approach may apply to drug discovery. Nature Catalysis published their most recent work -- a streamlined process for making a three-dimensional scaffold of keen interest to the pharmaceutical industry.

"Our tools open up whole new chemical space for potential drug targets," says Huw Davies, Emory professor of organic chemistry and senior author of the paper.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting: Around 70 Laureates set to meet with young scientists from approx. 100 countries

12.02.2020 | Event News

11th Advanced Battery Power Conference, March 24-25, 2020 in Münster/Germany

16.01.2020 | Event News

Laser Colloquium Hydrogen LKH2: fast and reliable fuel cell manufacturing

15.01.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

NUI Galway highlights reproductive flexibility in hydractinia, a Galway bay jellyfish

24.02.2020 | Life Sciences

KIST researchers develop high-capacity EV battery materials that double driving range

24.02.2020 | Materials Sciences

How earthquakes deform gravity

24.02.2020 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>